Penguin Moves to Disney
By Anne Chen
August 4, 2003

Last year, when the Walt Disney Co.'s feature animation unit, in Burbank,
Calif., announced that it was using Linux for digital animation work,
speculation grew that Adobe Systems Inc. would finally port its products to
Linux. To this day, however, Adobe has done no such thing. Rather than
wait, Disney, along with two other motion picture animation studios (which
declined to be named for this article), decided to jointly fund the
development of a Windows-to-Linux porting solution. The idea: develop
technology using the Wine emulator to run Adobe Photoshop on Linux.

While animation studios compete fiercely for ticket sales and are not known
as team players, all three agreed that a project that would benefit the
entire open-source community-while delivering a technology they needed-was
worth their cooperation, said Jack Brooks, director of technology at Walt
Disney Feature Animation.

The project has paid off tremendously for Disney this year alone.
Development of the porting solution, including site licenses, cost Disney
less than $15,000. Had he opted to run Photoshop on Windows machines, it
would have cost upward of $50,000 just in annual licensing fees, said
Brooks. He estimates support would have been an additional $40,000 a year.

"It's been a win-win model to have someone else provide added value to an
open-source product," Brooks said. "I didn't have the resources to chase
that project internally. This way, the open-source community got the
product, and we got what we needed cheaper than we could have done it
ourselves."

Although Linux has proven success on servers, it is just beginning to gain
ground on enterprise desktops, experts said. Much of this has to do with
emulators such as Wine, which enable companies to run Windows-only
applications on Linux, said Chad Robinson, an analyst at Robert Frances
Group Inc., a research company in Westport, Conn.

"Wine has always been an important element in considering Linux deployment
on the desktop in corporate environments because desktop product vendors
have simply not kept pace with server product vendors in porting their
products," Robinson said. "Although there are a few methods of emulation
available, Wine is one of the most complete and effective; and while not
every application runs perfectly, enough do that many companies end up
using it at some point."

Disney's foray with Linux began in 2000 when Brooks and his team came to
the realization that they could no longer afford to rely completely on
their animation platform, which was based on Silicon Graphics Inc.
technology. They began benchmarking Apple Computer Inc.'s Mac OS X,
FreeBSD, Windows and Red Hat Inc.'s Red Hat Linux.

Disney needed support for leading commercial animation and special effects
applications such as Maya, from Alias Systems (a division of SGI); Side
Effects Software Inc.'s Houdini; and Pixar Animation Studios' RenderMan.
When those applications were ported to Linux in 2001, Disney deployed Red
Hat Linux 7.2 on more than 600 desktops. All the desktops run CodeWeavers
Inc.'s CrossOver Office 2.0.1, which enables non-Linux applications to run
on Linux.

Brooks and his team also moved all their GUIs to Qt, a multiplatform kit
from Trolltech Inc., and ported more than 4 million lines of code to Linux.

"It was a pretty daunting proposition because we use a large number of
third-party software packages as well as internally developed software,"
Brooks said. "But we came to the conclusion that the right solution was
going to be Linux, and we've been pleased with the results."

By 2002, Disney had standardized its digital animation platform on Linux
running on Hewlett-Packard Co. hardware. The company also uses Mac OS X,
Solaris and Windows operating systems in its computing environment.

The studio isn't the only one that has taken advantage of open-source
software. DreamWorks SKG, Pixar Animation Studios and Lucas Digital Ltd.
LLC's Industrial Light and Magic, among others, have moved their animation
platforms to Linux during the last few years. DreamWorks' latest animation
feature, "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas," was the first movie ever
created entirely on Linux.

Although CrossOver Office and CrossOver PlugIn enabled Brooks to run
Windows-based and non-Linux applications such as Apple's QuickTime and
Microsoft Corp.'s Office on his desktops, he had no way to run Photoshop
for the 200 employees who use it on a regular basis. CrossOver Office did
not support the illustration application, and Adobe made no commitments to
porting its product to Linux.

Although Brooks considered and even tried to use several open-source
alternatives, including GIMP, or GNU Image Manipulation Program (see
related story), and Cinepaint (formerly FilmGimp), he said he ran into
performance issues with the two programs. Artists also found the
open-source programs less intuitive to use than Photoshop.

And while Photoshop is the program of choice among Disney's artist base,
Disney is keeping an eye on Cinepaint and is even using the program in a
few cases, Brooks said.

"There's this whole artistic community built around Photoshop, and we
couldn't easily move these people to free alternatives," Brooks said.
"[But] we hope [Cinepaint] will get to the point where we can use it for
more tasks."

Brooks considered dual-booting the workstations with Windows and Linux but
found the management to be too expensive and labor-intensive for his four
system administrators. He also looked into using VMware Inc.'s
VMWorkstation but decided against it because it would require purchasing a
Windows license and would create performance limitations.

Today, Brooks runs Photoshop 7.0 on CrossOver Office on more than 200
workstations. CrossWeavers, in turn, has added support of Photoshop 7.0 to
its CrossOver Office product.

Experts say the use of Wine by a corporation such as Disney to solve a
technology problem gives legitimacy to the idea of running Linux on the
desktop.

"Corporations [are] in a quandary-they are dissatisfied with Microsoft's
product line and licensing/pricing policies, but they have blocking factors
preventing them from making a move," said Robert Frances Group's Robinson.
"CodeWeavers' efforts could be the deciding factor in resolving this issue.
.... I can definitely see enterprise deployments taking advantage of this in
the future."

Photoshop has performed well on Red Hat, Brooks said. Saving files is
faster on Linux than on Mac OS machines also running Photoshop, he said.

Brooks said it took some time to convince Disney attorneys that he wanted
to pay for the development of the porting solution but did not want to own
it. However, Disney's legal department has developed a policy that enables
Disney to protect its intellectual property while keeping within the
statutes of the GNU General Public License, he said.

Last month, production of animated films that started on SGI's Irix was
complete, enabling Brooks to deploy Linux on those machines. He is now
planning a migration from Red Hat 7.2 to Red Hat 9.0 for his workstations
and rendering farm.

"For a lot of years, a lot of the industry was focused on SGI, and only one
player was involved," Brooks said. "By and large, we've made a huge
transition."

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